Collaborative Counsel and Collaborative Client/Laurie Israel, Esq.

Posted on April 10, 2011


Collaborative law is a form of alternative dispute resolution for divorcing couples who
prefer not to endure litigation, but desire vigorous legal representation. One of the first
issues of concern for every potential Collaborative Law client is whether the attorney will
serve as a strong advocate for that client.
Often potential clients believe that everything in the collaborative process is done as a
“team”. They believe that all parties (clients, Collaborative Counsel, and other
collaborative professionals) work together at all times to achieve a solution to the
divorce. There is a fear that this increased transparency in the collaborative process will
cause their own Collaborative Counsel to fail to adequately protect the client’s own
individual needs, issues, and concerns. They fear that their interests will be “sold out” in
the process.
While understandable, these fears are generally unfounded. It is true that some of the
collaborative process is purposefully transparent. However, much of the work in the
collaborative case gets done in private between Collaborative Counsel and his or her
own client. This “off- line” work is done between the group meetings, in person, on the
phone, or by e-mail. During these times, Collaborative Counsel (much like ordinary
counsel) works alone with the client to provide legal advice and case strategy.
Here are some of the matters that Collaborative Counsel addresses privately with the
client as the client’s advocate while the case is ongoing:
Education about the Law. Collaborative Counsel will give the client a “crash course” in
divorce law fairly early in the case. Most Collaborative Counsel think about the
resolution of a particular case as being consistent with the framework of existing laws,
cases, and judicial decisions. This model is termed practicing “in the shadow of the law”.
There will be variations to this template, as agreed to by the clients after informed
Legal Advice. Collaborative Counsel will apply the facts of the case to the relevant law
and give the client a private, personal, confidential report based on counsel’s legal
Work on Strategy. Even in collaborative cases, attorneys and clients need to work on
strategy. They work privately between the group collaborative meetings, using legal
conclusions, as well as information gathered from, and progress made (or lack thereof),
in each group meeting. In addition, when an impasse occurs in the process,
Collaborative Counsel is trained in methods to help overcome these roadblocks.
Analyze Finances. This is a crucial aspect of virtually all divorce cases. Collaborative
Counsel is a divorce attorney experienced in reviewing numbers and finances, who can
assist the client greatly in thinking about settlement, and what the finances will look like
after the divorce.